Monday, January 15, 2007

How to Sell a Pack of Smokes for $10,600

My readers are philistines. Do you mind me saying that? How else can one explain why there are no takers for my piece of art carefully constructed out of string and an old pack of cigarettes? I am positively flummoxed by the lack of response to this bargain basement offer of $10,600.

Maybe I need a good dealer. Apparently De Kooning said of Leo Castelli: "That son of a bitch, you could give him two beer cans and he could sell them." This is the man I'd like to sell my art. But De Kooning spoke too soon, as Richard B. Woodward recalls in his review of a biography of the gallerist Edith Gregor Halpert:
Sure enough, after the impish Jasper Johns responded to this taunt by making a pair of Ballantine Ale empties, Castelli sold the 1960 work to the collectors Robert and Ethel Scull. This classic of Pop art is now in a German museum.
The value of things amazes me. And infuriates me. A collection of beer cans is worth whatever people are willing to pay for it, of course, but just why are some willing to pay such ridiculous figures?

The difference between being bitter about no one buying an old pack of cigarettes with string tied to it, bitter because other people can sell refuse for thousands of dollars and I can't, and actually selling it is all attitude. Here is my twelve point plan for selling garbage as art:

1. Pick any piece of non-organic garbage and package it somehow. In my case the cigarette pack has string tied to it; this will suffice.

2. Construct a detailed story about it. The history of the specific piece of garbage, where you found it. Talk about its place in our culture. Relate it to something current like the war in Iraq or the AIDS epidemic. Put some cultural theory in there. Quote Foucault if you can, and depending on the garbage, maybe someone lighter, like Susan Sontag or Theodor Adorno. Finally, relate it to other art, both contemporary and historical.

3. Make as much art as you can. In addition to the garbage that you're trying to eventually make a small fortune on. Define art so loosely that you end up making art by accident. Decide things are art once you throw them away, then retrieve them from the wastebin. Catalog everything. Create an intimidatingly large (if not impressive) portfolio.

4. Start calling yourself an artist. Tell anyone who'll listen. This is your new identity.

5. Set up a website. This is where you should spend most of your money. Make it flashy. Don't play your hand too soon by explaining your piece of art on the website. The art/garbage's significance should remain mysterious, even frustrating.

6. Next, construct a story about yourself as an artist. Make something up. Think of yourself as a product that needs to be "branded." You need a real story to sell, because you're not just selling garbage, you're selling a name: Yours.

7. Next, publicize. Blog about art. Blog about yourself. Do things in public. Make obnoxious stands about current affairs and contemporary art. Call a well-established artist a total fraud. Quote Foucault when you do it.

8. Network. Go to every gallery event you can. Become a fixture at art openings. You must be charismatic at these, at least until you have a foundation of art world peers to defend you when you get drunk and pick a fight with a fellow artist at his or her opening. You must also get to know gallerists. Pick a few that could be candidates to represent your work.

9. Remember, if someone calls your art 'garbage,' deflect the criticism somehow. Call all art garbage, or make a comment about how materialistic our culture is. Never defend your work. Steer the conversation so that you don't have to.

10. Approach a gallery owner when you feel ready. It should be someone who knows you by now. And remember, they don't have to believe in your art, they only have to believe in their ability to sell your art. Make it easy for them. Have a marketing plan ready. Take glossy photos. Prepare video. Make business cards. Get endorsements from other artists.

11. Meet as many art critics as you can. Start with smaller people and buy them drinks if possible. Befriend them and ask them about what they think great art is today. Keep them talking. If you can flatter them with your curiosity about their opinions, they may develop a high opinion of you. Help them make the connection between how kind, sophisticated ("What thoughtful questions he asked!"), and connected ("This guy knows everybody!") you are, and your art.

12. Did all that work? If not, find where you went wrong in your marketing, but never, ever, blame the art.

[I added two important new points -- 3 and 4 -- a few hours after posting this list. It was a 10 pt. list; now it's 12.]

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